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Tired of waiting forever for a green light only to give up and blow through the intersection? Stop waiting and turn the light green!

Most modern traffic signals should be able to detect the presence of your bicycle and put you in the rotation to get a green light. This is important because many signals stay red until they detect a vehicle waiting to cross. While most signals can be tuned to detect bikes, it is often a matter of reporting it to the proper public works people and getting them to go out and do the work.

Loop Detectors

These are wires embedded in the pavement that are basically metal detectors. The most common types are the double loop picture at the right, or a single loop.

For best detection at a double loop like this one, place your bike along the center wire. For a single loop, place the bike along the wire on either side of the loop.

If you have a posh bike with few metal parts, the detector might have trouble detecting you. It sometimes helps to lay the bike down on the detector, especially getting metal wheel rims close to the wires.

Sometimes the loops get paved over and it becomes impossible to see them. In that case, there are options to paint markings on the pavement indicated where to place a bicycle. Contact your city’s public works department to request this marking.

Video Detectors

Many newer traffic signals use a camera to detect the presence of vehicles at the intersection. It is usually mounted near the lights or at the top of the pole. Camera detectors are being used on most new lights that KCMO is installing on the “mast arms” that extend over the street.

For best placement put your bike in the middle of the travel lane. Be sure your body is turned towards the camera, which might be at an angle instead of straight ahead. If that doesn’t work try jumping up and down and waving your arms. It sounds dorky, but it often works. Video detection often fails to detect bikes at night. Make sure you have a good headlight and try waving it back and forth a bit.

If your city is using video detection they should also be using a silhouette device to test and tune the detectors. If you get the run-around, ask public works to do this. Or ask them to meet you at the signal with your bike for a live demonstration.


Here are examples of markings and signage used to indicate the “sweet spot” where a traffic signal detector is tuned to detect a bicycle:


References

Detection of bicycles at demand-actuated traffic signals, humantransport.org.

Detecting bicycles and motor vehicles using the same loop detector, presentation to California Department of Transportation by Robert M. Shanteau, PhD, PE.


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